Boy do Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer play each other a lot. It seems every tournament they both enter, they end up meeting, often in the finals. Except Thursday night at the Australian Open where they will clash a round before, in the semifinals.
After Djokovic got the edge in last season 5 wins to 3, their head-to-head is now deadlocked at 22 apiece. And right now all the numbers are pointing toward Djokovic finally taking the lead in this series.
Djokovic is younger (28 to 34).
Djokovic is ranked higher (1 to 3).
Djokovic has been the better player (he’s won the last two Slams, the last two Masters Series plus the London Finals).
Djokovic has more titles than Federer at the Australian Open (5 to 4).
Djokovic has won 2 of 3 from Federer at the Australian Open, their last two in straight sets.
Djokovic has never lost an Australian Open semifinal or final match, Federer has.
And I could go on. Djokovic is the clear favorite, there’s no debate. But what does Federer bring to the table?
Federer will have the crowd.
Federer has more experience.
Federer has more variety, more shots, a SABR.
Federer has less pressure.
Federer has, on paper this week, been playing better.
Federer has the greater family (4 kids to 1).
Federer is Federer. He’s the GOAT, dammit.
So yes, despite all of Djokovic’s success in Australia, Federer will indeed have the crowd, the majority of it (not like US Open levels). And it’s his variety that gives Novak problems.
When you play Rafael Nadal, you know what’s coming. Same to a degree from Murray, but Andy doesn’t have the weight of shot that a Nadal or Federer has. Federer, though, can choose from so many different patterns of play. Serve/volley, baseline, baseline/attack, aggressive, defense and hell, the SABR plus he’s smart about. And I think it’s all those different options plus the fact that it is Federer, a man not in fear of Novak, that unnerves Novak.
The problem is, right now Novak’s simply the better player. I know Gilles Simon stretched Djokovic, but that was an outlier because Simon does that to people. Roger has looked sharp as a tack for the most part. So Federer absolutely has a chance, but it starts and ends with his serve, especially his second. If Roger can serve well and convert break chances, he’ll have a chance to win. If he doesn’t, he’ll lose.
That said, Federer’s greatest obstacle may be winning not two but three sets. At age 34 against a player in the very prime of his career, that’s going to be awfully tough. In two sets on a quick court like Dubai or Cincinnati, Federer can get on a run and win. But in best-of-5 there’s too much time for someone like Djokovic to reset.
We saw at Wimbledon, we saw again at the US Open. Federer can “hang” tough with Novak, but to do it over five sets is asking a helluva lot for a guy pushing 35.
Like I said, though, if Roger serves well and Djokovic lets down, comes out flat, it could go Federer’s way. Then again, Federer hasn’t won in Melbourne since 2010 and other than a win over Murray in the 2014 quarterfinals (the Scot’s first Slam after back surgery), the Swiss hasn’t beaten anyone in the Top 5 since. But I think he’ll make this interesting. He usually does.
The Pick: Djokovic in 4
As for the quarterfinals today, not much news. Andy Murray was just too strong in the end for Ferrer. I thought David played a really good second set but he lost his mojo once the roof shut given Murray the edge. Murray looks good to make it back to the final.
In the morning match (which I didn’t see), I was surprised Monfils even got a set. Raonic ended up winning that one 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. I know it’s only Monfils, but credit to Raonic. He’s not playing as many breakers anymore. The guy can actually break serve. That’s scary when you think about.
ESPN will have the Djokovic-Federer match live at an ungodly 3:30am ET. Set your clocks or set your DVR, VCR, Blue-Ray, Beta-Max or 8mm. Whatever it takes, just watch it. It’s the last time you’ll see these two play again until what…March at Indian Wells?
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